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The Wayfarers of the Missed Train: Migration and Massacre

By Arghya Protim Bala


Displacement is an essential outcome of the idea of contemporary clash. Wars among contending groups inside national limits, which have expanded since the Cold War, are really decimating to the residents or regular folks due to mortality, pulverized framework and livelihoods, and the need to escape one’s home. The degree of removal is one of the measures of the seriousness of a contention, alongside losses and span. Displacement is not uncommon (Dryden-Peterson 2011). “Of all the people who have experienced conflict, 56% of them have been displaced. Over the course of the conflict in Afghanistan, 76% of the population has been displaced, and in Liberia, 90%. At the end of 2009, 43.3 million people were displaced globally, including 15.2 million refugees, who were displaced across national borders, and 27.1 million Internally Displaced people, who remained in their own country” (Dryden-Peterson 2011). According to Edward Newman and Joanne Van Selm, wrote in their book ‘Refugees and Forced Displacements; International Security, Human Vulnerability, and the State’ that “Migration, whether voluntary or forced, has always been a characteristic of individual and collective human behaviour. Refugee flows and human displacement have, ad infinitum, been a feature, and consequence, of conflict within and between societies” (Newman 2003). However, they question “whether there have been qualitative changes in patterns of forced displacement over the past century despite the popular perception of refugee flows and human displacement as phenomena that have seen marked upturns in recent years” (Newman 2003). They also added, “nevertheless, one key change in the twentieth century was the move by governments towards regulating migration, in particular immigration, and towards defining those who were to be granted the special status of refugees” (Newman 2003).

According to Sarah Dryden-Peterson, there are three significant paths in which conflict prompts displacement for children and their families (Dryden-Peterson 2011). First, civilians can unintentionally get between conflicting groups and either escape once brutality catches their group or escape in the reckoning of savagery (Dryden-Peterson 2011). Second, armed groups embracing techniques of war expressly went for inciting boundless displacement as well as displacement of particular people and communities (Dryden-Peterson 2011). Third, the displacement comes about because of the interruption of financial and social life realized by skirmishes (Dryden-Peterson 2011). The theories delineated above how displacement can lead to pauperization of people uprooting their normal life and finally casualties in huge numbers. The statistics provided above shows the number of displaced people even these days. And from the theories and statistics provided above we can assume the problem it brings. In this essay I would use the examples of the partition of Bengal in 1947 and the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. Both the incidents brought displacement as a result. And both of them witnessed huge migration. I would also attempt to take a look at the Marichjhapi incident that happened in the year 1979.

The Namasudra Refugees from East Pakistan

The misery of minorities who progressed toward becoming casualties of brutal viciousness and segregation have been separated on the basis if a few factors, viz, cause for flight, time of relocation, place of starting point, caste, class and occupation. The acknowledgment and affirmation of the Government of their status, was additionally an essential issue.

The refugees were categorized as ‘old’ or ‘new’ migrants. The 41.17 lakh odd people who migrated to India from 1946-1958 were the ‘old’ refugees, whereas, 11.14 lakh people, who came here from 1964-1971 have been termed as ‘new’ migrants. Finally, during the Bangladesh war of 1971, approximately 2/3 lakh refugees fled from their homeland and came to Calcutta only to get dissolved with the city’s mainstream population. (Kaleidoscope Calcutta 2023)

This period in the history of Bengal was characterized by terrifying racial violence combined with the hurried and brutal involvement of crossing the national border, and the slower and persistent stream of Hindus leaving East Pakistan for the province of West Bengal.

East Bengali Refugees alludes to the general population who left East Bengal following the Partition of Bengal. It was a part of the Independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. A huge number of these evacuees and settlers were Bengali Hindus. Bengal was divided into West Bengal and East Bengal. West Bengal became a part of India and East Bengal was named as East Pakistan. East Pakistan split away from Pakistan in 1971 when Bangladesh was formed as an independent nation. Migration started as soon as the states were partitioned. Migration mainly happened from East Pakistan (East Bengal) to West Bengal. Most of the refugees of East Bengal settled in numerous towns and rural areas of west Bengal. And it is also important to note that a noteworthy number moved to Assam and Tripura. Just after the partition a huge number of people crossed the border looking for a better lifestyle while they left their old habitats. Even after the 1950s migration continued. In the 1960s, after the India-Pakistan war of 1965, a great influx happened again. Millions of people were displaced. After the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, a major influx came to India. Systematic mass killing, looting, etc. were a daily occurrence at that time. And for that reason, a great influx of Hindu refugees tried to escape all this by moving to West Bengal.

East Bengal refugees have been frequently marked as obstructive, disobedient, uncompromising inconvenience shooters, who moved in the city just to aggravate its tranquillity and soundness. This is a negative and completely phoney appraisal of a class who have dependably been known for their confidence, dauntless fearlessness, gutsy good faith and tremendous determination to succeed despite obstacles. They took asylum in West Bengal – by and large, overlooking the government approaches. They have opposed, controlled and battled like hellfire in the battle for presence (Kaleidoscope Calcutta 2023).

A huge number of refugees of East Bengal belonged to the Namasudra community of Bengal. This community had to face severe problems when they migrated to Western Bengal. As they were a lower caste community of Bengal, they were at times denied stay in a city. The West Bengal government faced immense trouble in this matter. However, before going into that part, I would like to write about the origin of the Namasudra community. Numerically, the Namasudra community of Bengal constituted the second largest caste group in colonial Bengal. The density of Namasudra people was higher in the eastern areas of Bengal (Bandyopadhyay 1997). 71% of the Namasudra population of Bengal lived in the districts of Bakarganj, Faridpur, Dacca, Khulna, Jessore, and Mymensingh. However, in the census of 1901 the proportion increased by almost 4% and stood at 75.14%. But within eastern Bengal again, the major concentration of the Namasudra people could be found in the bil or marshy tracts of the Bakarganj area, the southern region of Faridpur, the adjoining areas of Jessore and Bagerhat subdivisions of Khulna. These regions contained most of the Namasudra population of Bengal (Bandyopadhyay 1997). Their existence can also be traced in the Purnea district of Bihar and in the Southern districts of Assam (Bandyopadhyay 2011). After the partition of India and after the liberation of Bangladesh the Namasudra community faced trouble in staying in those areas of Bangladesh and they also migrated to West Bengal. “Since the Partition of India in 1947 there has been a gross outward movement of about 2.5 million people from East Bengal to India. Of these, about 1.5 million people categorized as refugees, predominantly Hindus and some tribal Santhal, had moved into West Bengal. Of these, about, 0.47 million people have settled mostly by self-initiative” (Maudood 1981). Some of them settled in Assam or Meghalaya. More than 1 million refugees were to be settled as they were unable to settle on their own. Many of them lived in the camps for a long time. They were waiting to be rehabilitated. The Government of India had planned to settle them mostly in Dandakaranya – an area entirely culturally and physically different from that of the refugees: “Dandakaranya has for centuries been a relatively sparsely populated zone in India. The original population is mostly tribal and consists of various groups of Gonds” (Maudood 1981).

Amid the mid-1960s, the GOI (Government of India) chose the Dandakaranya locale to restore the displaced people from East Bengal through the efforts of DDA (Dandakaranya Development Authority). By 1963, around 6000 Bengali refugees were settled in Dandakaranya and by 1971 their number expanded to roughly 16000. Furthermore, the majority of them have a place with the Namasudra people group. It was not possible to accommodate the Namasudras in Bengal. Here, an imperative point is that the subject of restoration of the refugees has dependably involved political and monetary debate in the eastern conditions of India. For instance, in late 1968, the Assam Government proclaimed to restore around 12000 evacuee families inside the state. The Union Government consented to settle the outcasts still in camps in different parts of India – especially in Dandakaranya. While in Dandakaranya, there was developing discontent about land and living among the displaced people. The Bengali refugees who used to cultivate on the plains, found it massively hard to cultivate on the rough landscape (Maudood 1981).

The Communist Party (M) of West Bengal has, from the earliest starting point of the commission of the Dandakaranya venture, contradicted the restoration of the Bengali refugees in Dandakaranya and they proposed for their settlement in the Sudarban areas of West Bengal. Their stand has had a gigantic impact against the Bengali refugees’ colonization in Dandakaranaya which hasn’t always urged numerous displaced people to move far from Dandakaranya every now and then, and move, unapproved, into various places in the Sundarbans peripheries in 24-Pargana. The CPIM most presumably received such an arrangement to undermine the political position of the INC (Indian National Congress). In any case, their support was sufficiently solid to agitate the DDA design with respect to displaced person recovery in Dandakaranya (Maudood 1981). This internalized politics brought one of the most devastating genocides of the world.

The Marichjhapi Incident

The Marichjhapi Incident alludes to the coercive removal which occurred in the year 1979 of the refugees from East Bengal on the Marichjhapi Island, which is located in the Sundarbans, West Bengal. A large number of people died on account of starvation or ailment or police gunfire.

When the CPIM came to power, they reportedly urged the Bengalis of Dandakaranya to return to Bengal and to settle in the Sundarbans.

The stages that paved the way for refugee slaughter display a long trail of class strife that had its underlying foundations in the preceding centuries. The Muslims were generally converts from the untouchable castes and lower ranks who had achieved a certain degree of emancipation by converting to Islam while holding their Bengali culture. The disparities between Muslims and Hindu untouchable inhabitants were not as prominent as between the untouchables and the higher caste land owners. The Hindu untouchables and Muslims were in fact political partners against the Hindu-landowner dominating Bengal Congress Party. The East Bengal Namasudra development had been a standout amongst the most capable and politically motivated untouchable developments in India from the 1920s. The rejection of higher caste Hindus from control prompted the Hindu first class and in the end the Congress Party to squeeze a parcel of the area for freedom, so that at any rate the western half would come back to their control (Mallick 1999).

Having sold their possessions to pay for the excursion, more or less 15000 displaced families left Dandakaranya just to find that Left Front arrangement had changed now that the coalition was in control, and numerous refugees were captured and returned to the resettlement camps. The rest of the refugees figured out how to sneak out of police cordons, achieving their goal of Marichjhapi island, where settlement started (Mukherjee 2022). By their own particular endeavours, they set up a feasible angling industry, salt dish, a wellbeing focus, and schools over the next year. The state government did not extend any assistance, taking the stand that the displaced people were “in unapproved control of Marichjhapi which is a piece of the Sundarbans Government Reserve Forest abusing along these lines the Forest Acts” (Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Department 1979) (Bandhyopadhyay 2022). It remains to be proven wrong whether the CPIM put premium on nature or simply dreaded this may be a point of reference for an unmanageable evacuee flood with the resulting loss of political help. At the point when influence neglected to influence the exiles to forsake their settlement, the West Bengal government began on January 26, 1979, a monetary bar of the settlement with thirty police dispatches. They were tear-gassed, huts were razed, and fisheries and tube wells were demolished, and the refugees were denied food and water (Mallick 2022).

“With no national party prepared to take up their cause, the untouchables were indeed without powerful allies. Institutions of the Central Government such as the Scheduled Castes and Tribes Commission that had an obligation to defend the untouchables’ human rights did not publicly intervene” (Mallick 2022).

When the killings were going on, some unfavourable comparisons were made with the British massacre which took place in Jalianwalabagh. People, who made this argument said that the Marichjahpi massacre may have exceeded in numbers to that of the Jalianwalabagh massacre and also the massacre of eighty communists in West Bengal in 1958. I, at this juncture, believe this to be an exaggeration and incidents like these should not be compared with each other. The refugees lacked the support of influential people who could have probably publicized their cause in movies or in history books. The massacre of Jalianwalabag was investigated by the Hunter Commission. The incident of Marichjhapi was forgotten soon and was remembered only by the untouchables (Mallick 2022).


In this essay, I tried to show different sides of displacements by using two interconnected aftereffects of the Partition of India and the Liberation war of Bangladesh. I tried to show how displacement happened in these two very significant historical incidents. We have witnessed migration from East Pakistan to West Bengal after the partition of India. Migration never stopped, with the passing of time it increased at a very slow rate. After the Liberation War of Bangladesh, a huge influx came to West Bengal. However, the migrated people were displaced. And the state or the central government were apathetic to them. They were first transferred to Dandakaranya and then again CPIM government moved them to Marichjhapi Island of West Bengal. However, the Marichjhapi massacre tells us how the untouchable displaced people’s life was. The issues related to migration became intolerable towards the end of the twentieth century. Although the intensity of the problem has decreased but displacement still continues to a major problem of the world.


Bandyopadhayay, Sekhar (2011). Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 1872-1947. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bandyopādhyāẏa Śekhara and Basu Ray Chaudhury Anasua (2022). Caste and Partition in Bengal: The Story of Dalit Refugees, 1946-1961. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dryden-Peterson, S. (2011). “Conflict, Education and Displacement”, Conflict and Education, 1:1

Kaleidoscope Calcutta (2023). “People Of Calcutta The East Bengal Refugees”, Catchcal.Com. Accessed March 15.

Mallick, Ross (1999). ‘Refugee Resettlement in Forest Reserves: West Bengal Policy Reversal and the Marichjhapi Massacre’, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 58

Maudood, Elahi K. (1981). ‘Refugees in Dandakaranya’, The International Migration Review, Vol. 15

Mukherjee Sipra (2022). ‘The Tales of the Namasudra Refugees amidst the Making of a Nation’ in Revisiting Partition: Contestation, Narratives and Memories. Delhi: Primus Books.

Newman Edward & Selm Joanne van, eds. (2003). Refugees and Forced Displacements; International Security, Human Vulnerability, and the State, United Nations University Press

Sarkar, Sree Gouripriya (2005). Jatitatba Samgraha. Kolkata: Hiranmay Sarkar.

Arghya Protim Bala
is a PhD candidate in the department of History, Presidency University, Kolkata. His doctoral research revolves around the history and politics of caste in India, particularly Bengal. He earned the degrees of BA (Honours) and MA in History from the Presidency University, Kolkata. He also has deep interest in electoral politics and psephology.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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